Stray Paragraphs in February, Year of the Rat Summary

Charles Wright


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In “Stray Paragraphs in February, Year of the Rat,” the third line, “A love of landscape’s a true affection for regret, I’ve found,” conveys Wright’s characteristic contradictory vision of landscape as a tableau of endless fascination as well as a source of discontent—“outside us, yet ourselves” as Wright sees it. The pattern of counterstatements continues: “Renunciation, it’s hard to learn, is now our ecstasy,” with Wright’s doubt-driven faith operating as a foundation for some deep-winter expressions of yearning and uncertainty. As in many later poems, Wright’s sense of a deity is darkened by an almost existential mood of resignation. “[I]f God were still around,” Wright poses, “he’d swallow our sighs in his nothingness.”

Following four stanzas in this fashion, Wright directly addresses the season as if it were a manifestation of divine power: “February, old head turner,” he implores, “cut us some slack,” his use of a vernacular making the plea personal. The “melancholy music” of the season (and the era, significantly the “Year of the Rat”) is pervasive, but Wright hopes that some force, internal and/or external, will “Lift up that far corner of the landscape,” which he now designates as “toward the west” where the “deep light” of day’s end might provide some reason for hope and the revival of life—“the arterial kind”—that the advent of spring promises.

The following poem, “Stray Paragraphs in April, Year of the Rat,” augments this expectation with its conclusion that “The soul is air, and it maintains us.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Andrews, Tom, ed. The Point Where All Things Meet: Essays on Charles Wright. Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College Press, 1995.

Bourgeois, Louis. “An Interview with Charles Wright.” The Carolina Quarterly 56 (Spring/Summer, 2004): 30-37.

Wright, Charles. Halflife: Improvisations and Interviews, 1977-1987. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988.

Wright, Charles. Quarter Notes: Improvisations and Interviews. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.